Biotech Updates

Scientists Use Metabolic Engineering to Modify Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Microalgae

January 15, 2014

Scientists from Rothamsted Research have used metabolic and genetic engineering to demonstrate for the first time that it is possible to achieve an eight-fold increase in DHA content in Phaeodactylum tricornutum. The diatom P. tricornutum naturally accumulates high levels of EPA and is considered a good source for industrial production. The study is published in the journal Metabolic Engineering.

Marine microalgae and diatoms are the primary producers of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA) long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) in the aquatic food web. Marine microalgae cultivation is one of the sources of these oils. Currently, no single algal strain accumulates high concentration of EPA and DHA.

The researchers used two genes from the picoalga Ostreococcus tauri in the diatom P. triconutum and successfully altered the Omega-3 content in the latter. They developod a strain of the diatom that can now accumulate both EPA and DHA. Naturally, the diatom produces ~35% EPA and only traces of its total oil content. The newly developed transgenic diatom strain can convert a substantial portion of the EPA that they make to DHA. Therefore, scientists have successfully generated the first transgenic diatom that can synthesize both of these high value omega-3 LC-PUFAs.

See Rothamsted Research's news release at